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  July 26, 2013

TRNN REPLAY: Alberta Regulator Approves Tar Sands Expansion Despite "Irreversible" Eco Impact

Indigenous activists and supporters embark on 4th annual Healing Walk, raise awareness on tar sands effects
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SHAGHAYEGH TAJVIDI, TRNN PRODUCER: The largest industrial project in the world, the Canadian tar sands, looks as though it is about to get bigger. Alberta's energy regulator has recently given the green light to the expansion of Shell's Jackpine Mine five and a half years after the company first proposed the project. The mine is just one of ten new tar sands projects awaiting approval, though concerned indigenous communities and environmentalists argue that further development will exacerbate the already dire conditions of people and ecosystems in the region and beyond.


CHANT LEADER: When I say "no", you say "pipelines". No!

CROWD: Pipelines!


CROWD: Pipelines!


CROWD: Pipelines!


MELINA LABOUCAN MASSIMO, LUBICON CREE FIRST NATION: We see inherent aboriginal and treaty rights being violated in the name of the tar sands, rights that are enshrined in the Constitution of Canada. We are calling on the B.C., Alberta, and the Harper government to become truly accountable to the people they claim to represent.


TAJVIDI: Jackpine Mine and related processing facilities are located 70 kilometres north of Fort McMurray and would produce 100,000 barrels of oil a day, on top of their current daily capacity of 255,000 barrels. In its July 9 report, the Joint Review Panel (JRP) tasked with assessing the impacts of the expansion project found that the project would likely result in significant adverse cumulative effects on wetlands; old-growth forests; various species of wildlife, such as migratory birds and caribou; biodiversity; and Aboriginal traditional land use, rights, and culture.

Their report also stated: "some types of habitat cannot be reclaimed, the landscape will be significantly altered, and some species loss may be irreversible."

Despite the numerous adverse effects, the panel went on to approve the project, citing its "significant economic benefits for the region, Alberta, and Canada."

The panel's ruling in favour of the profits from the Jackpine expansion is much in line with the Conservative government's strong tar sands agenda and advocacy both at home and abroad. It is not surprising, considering that new tar sands development is expected to bring more than $2 trillion to the Canadian economy over the next 25 years.

The final decision to pass the $9 billion expansion plan now rests with the province of Alberta and the federal government, which are expected to make their decisions by late fall.


CHANT LEADER: When I say "pray", you say "healing". Pray!

CROWD: Healing!


CROWD: Healing!


CROWD: Healing!


CROWD: Healing!


The panel's approval of Jackpine's expansion comes days after indigenous communities and supporters embarked on the 4th Annual Healing Walk, meant to raise awareness about the effects of tar sands on local communities.

On July 6, 500 people gathered near Fort McMurray in northern Alberta to participate in the seven-hour, 14-kilometer walk along toxic industrial sites. The event was the largest in its four-year history and drew the participation of prominent activists such as Winona LaDuke, Naomi Klein, and Bill McKibben.

Speakers at the event addressed the human and ecological impacts on surrounding communities in Cree, Dene, and Metis territories in the Athabasca, Cold Lake, and Peace River regions.

The Real News spoke to Eriel Deranger, one of the main organizers of the Healing Walk and longtime activist in her community of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.

ERIEL DERANGER, HEALING WALK ORGANIZER: Massive amounts of water are being used. Massive amounts and swaths of land are being destroyed just so that they can access this sort of really bottom-of-the-barrel resource which is tar sands, which is a heavy, heavy, heavy oil. And then we talk about what does that mean when we destroy the landscape. Well, we're talking about destroying critical habitat for species. It's not just forests that are being destroyed but marshlands. And these marshlands are habitat, critical habitat for many different species, from large game to waterfowl, and then the river systems are home to fish. So we're talking about massive infringements on species survival.

The human rights impacts are that communities are now going without clean water, without access to food security and food sovereignty. And indigenous communities are losing their constitutionally protected rights to continue their cultural survival and practices of hunting, fishing, trapping, and cultural and ceremonial practices on their lands.

The implications for the human rights stuff is that the people rely on these waterways not just for water and for recreation but to bring them their food. And so when the animals--the fish, the game, the waterfowl--are poisoned and the people are utilizing those animals as food security and food sources, they're ingesting those animals which are being exposed to very, very high levels of contamination.

What does that equate to? People are eating contamination. And that has led to an increasing and an alarming number of cancers that are being seen in very small communities, such as the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, which has many members in the community for Chipewyan, along with Mikisew Cree. They have seen a 30 percent higher level of cancers in their communities than they should be seeing, including instances of very rare forms of cancer of the bile duct that are so aggressive that once you're diagnosed with it, you literally have months to live.

TAJVIDI: A Canadian scientific study released in January of this year found that heavy metals, including arsenic, a known carcinogen, have been leaching from tar sands operations into surrounding lakes for decades. The scientists found that levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), linked to cancer, have been rising steadily along with the expansion of tar sands operations since the 1970s and affect areas up to 90 kilometres away from the tar sands. The government-backed study confirms earlier independent research conducted on the subject, as well as the firsthand accounts of community members.

CLAYTON THOMAS-MULLER, CAMPAIGNER, SOVEREIGNTY SUMMER: One community in particular, Fort Chipewyan, a sleepy village of about 1,200 people, has seen over 100 of its citizens die from rare forms of cancer and other autoimmune-related diseases. In the last ten years, the trajectory of this disproportionate amount of mortalities in the community directly goes hand-in-hand with the escalation of extraction of the tar sands upstream from where they are.

DERANGER: Indigenous peoples have this intrinsic connection to the lands that we still hold and that we still practice. And so whatever you put in that water, whatever you put in the land, it ultimately gets put in us. And therefore the governments and these oil and gas industries are complicit in the environmental genocide of our people and of our lands.

TAJVIDI: The impacts of tar sands extend far beyond Alberta, due to the vast network of pipelines and refineries in Canada and across North America.

THOMAS-MULLER: You know, the half a dozen or so pipeline proposals to try and bring tar sands to global markets--the Keystone XL, Enbridge Northern Gateway, Kinder Morgan, Energy East plan, and a couple of other lesser-known plans--you know, cross potentially hundreds of Canadian bodies of water. And, you know, if you look at the track record of companies like, for example, Enbridge, I mean, these companies have pipeline ruptures about once or twice a week. And this is the industry standard or norm. So what they commonly refer to as incidents or spills are actually just part of the standard day-to-day operations of these so-called safe ways to transport this toxic, poisonous fuel.

TAJVIDI: The burning of this fuel is one of largest contributions to spiraling green house gas emissions in the world. In fact, reports such as this, of Policy Alternatives, claim that if Alberta were a country, its per capita greenhouse gas emissions would be the highest in the world along with Qatar.

BILL MCKIBBEN, ENVIRONTMENTALIST, 350.ORG: What happens here will determine what the world is like for thousands and thousands of generations to come. So far, they've only gotten about 3 percent of the oil out of the tar sands country here. But if they get out all the oil that they can economically recover, then what the scientists tell us is that the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, which is already 400 parts per million too high, would go to 540 parts per million just from Alberta. And if that ever happened, then it's pretty much, as Jim Hansen at NASA said, game over for the climate.

THOMAS-MULLER: The carbon footprint of the tar sands, the full life cycle of it, is driving catastrophic climate change, which of course disproportionately affects indigenous peoples and coastal-dwelling peoples all over Mother Earth, I think most directly people in the arctic, and of course people from small island states who are seeing their entire nations submerge under rising sea levels.

TAJVIDI: Many scientists and researchers have drawn the connection between climate change and extreme weather conditions around the world, including floods, droughts, heat waves, and more severe hurricanes than seen before.

MCKIBBEN: We're already in horrible trouble. What's happening here is already connected to what's going on all around the world. And what's going on is so desperate. Every place around the world now, someplace every week there's some flood like there's never been before. You know. You had that in Alberta just a few weeks ago, and people all over the world saw those pictures of the arena in Calgary, the hockey arena flooded up to the tenth row. You--when 19 young firefighters die in a wildfire in Arizona the other day because they have the hottest temperature and it's tinder-dry and the forest just goes up like a bomb, you know, that's connected.

TAJVIDI: In addition to affecting people, ecosystems, and the planet, the Harper government's expressed desire to become an energy superpower through tar sands expansion has had deep implications for the state of Canadian democracy.

NAOMI KLEIN, WRITER AND ACTIVIST: But, you know, the tar sands are not just poisoning the water and poisoning the land here and poisoning the atmosphere, as we know; they're also poisoning our political culture. You know, our government has one idea: dig lots of holes. You know, this is a government that is utterly committed to extraction as a means of economic development. There's less and less tolerance for dissent. There's a war on science, a war on scientists being silenced on many levels. And there's a war against First Nations people and an erosion of their rights. There is an attack on peaceful environmental activism being [incompr.] as terrorism, being [incompr.] as foreign agents. So the tar sands is poisoning our country. You know, it's poisoning other sectors of the economy. The manufacturing sector's been decimated by the high dollar created by this oil boom now.

So this is really a liberation movement. We need to liberate ourselves from this incredibly damaging economic model and this single idea of the Harper government.

THOMAS-MULLER: When we talk about the perverse nature of big-oil lobby and how the lobby of big oil has completely hijacked Canadian democracy--and I think this can be best outlined the release of documents by the organization Greenpeace that showed correspondence between the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the Harper government, thanking them for accepting their language pertaining to the gutting of Canada's Navigable Waters Act.

TAJVIDI: The Conservative government's sweeping changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act, which removed federal safeguards from over 99 percent of Canada's waterways, now leaves about 30,000 lakes and rivers vulnerable to industry and allows oil and gas companies to build pipelines without having to undergo federal environmental assessments. Indigenous and environmental activists say the Conservatives' loosening of environmental legislation is an attempt to make tar sands pipelines and mining projects easier to initiate, paving the way for the government's desired expansion of the tar sands.

For The Real News Network, Shaghayegh Tajvidi in Toronto, Lana Goldberg in Fort McMurray, Alberta.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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